British and Irish Lions: Two test positive for coronavirus in touring party, 12 close contacts forced to isolate
Coronavirus outbreaks in four different playing squads have seen the match against the Bulls on Saturday postponed, while the Springboks’ clash with Georgia on Friday has been cancelled; Lions managing director Ben Calveley insists tour will continue.
Last Updated: 07/07/21 8:28pm
The British and Irish Lions' tour of South Africa is continuing despite one player and staff member testing positive for coronavirus - forcing a further 12 people within the touring party to isolate.
After one positive result came from a lateral flow test as part of their screening programme earlier in the day, the Lions confirmed later on Wednesday that eight players and four members of staff had been placed in isolation at the team hotel following further PCR testing.
The tourists also announced eight enforced changes to the team to play the Sharks in Johannesburg later in the day, with kick-off delayed by an hour while the latest round of testing took place.
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Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies, Tadhg Beirne, Conor Murray, Stuart Hogg and Chris Harris were all removed from the original matchday squad announced for the game.
The latest developments are a huge setback to the tour's prospects, with the Lions due to face South Africa in a three-Test series starting on July 24.
Lions managing director Ben Calveley said after the initial positive result: "We have followed all necessary precautions since the start of the tour, which included regular testing and rigorous Covid-19 counter-measure planning and protocols.
"Our priority is to ensure the health and safety of the entire touring party, which is why we quickly isolated the players and staff upon receiving the news of the positive result."
The Springboks' scheduled warm-up Test against Georgia on Friday, meanwhile, has been cancelled because of Covid-19 infections in both camps - including Springbok head coach Jacques Nienaber - and on Tuesday it was announced that the Lions' tour match against the Bulls on Saturday has been postponed due to a Covid-19 outbreak within the hosts' party.
Four Bulls players and one member of management returned positive tests which, in combination with their close contacts, made it impossible for them to field a team. The game will either be rescheduled or an alternative opponent will be found.
Lions have 'no intention' of changing schedule
Despite the outbreaks, Calveley has ruled out the possibility of finishing the tour in the UK, insisting the objective is to ensure the Test series proceeds as planned.
"All the games are important, but the Test series is paramount. We're here in South Africa and our intention is to get the games over the line in South Africa," Calveley told Sky Sports.
"We play the match against the Sharks tonight (Wednesday), go on and deal with Saturday and then move to Cape Town on Sunday. At the moment there is no intention to deviate from that agreed schedule.
"We just very calmly work through the challenges as they present themselves. We take things one step at a time. The focus was to get the Sharks fixture on, which we did.
"We then turn our attention to the weekend and we know the Bulls can't put a side out, so we are working with the South African Rugby Union to find alternative opponents for Saturday, or if we can't then we'll rearrange that for later in the tour.
"The approach is to stay calm, focused and take things one step at a time."
Calveley revealed that not all members of the Lions touring party are double jabbed with the outbreak meaning Warren Gatland was forced to make eight changes to the matchday 23 against the Sharks.
"That Medical Advisory Group contains independent virologists and infectious disease experts and their recommendation is that the Sharks match can proceed," Calveley said.
"So we see it as a positive that we are showing that we can overcome all the challenges that face us. We are determined to make sure we can put a tour on for the players, the fans and for all of our friends here in SA.
"We are in a secure, tightly-controlled bubble environment, but what's absolutely the case and we have seen it in sport around the world is that no bubble is entirely impenetrable."